leadership dot #2608: detours

On a recent trip out of town, I encountered three fairly major detours where the entire road was closed and we were detoured around for miles on a different road. The route was marked and I was confident that I would end up in approximately the same place but it was still unsettling to be on a strange road at the mercy of DOT signage.

During “construction season” (as the summer is lovingly called in the Midwest), we should come to expect detours and anticipate them as a natural part of travel; nonetheless, they still cause frustration, uncertainty and delays.

I think of the parallel with people on the change journey. They, too, should prepare to encounter detours en route to their goals but unlike with the roads, there are no signs or known endings. Detours during the change process are vague, unmarked and often set people back instead of moving them forward.

In both situations, taking the detour may still be the best way to arrive at the chosen destination. While you can’t avoid detours, it may help to expect to have your plans follow a circuitous route – whether literally or metaphorically – as you traverse on your journey.

leadership dot #2582: set limits

The next time you’re driving down the highway, pay close attention to the row of power poles that line the road. Chances are that you will see a barrier midway up the pole — something that you probably never noticed before but once you see it, you’ll be attuned to them everywhere.

These metal or plastic rings are animal guards, designed to keep squirrels, cats and raccoons from climbing up the pole and causing damage to the electrical wires. Animals trigger over 10% of the power outages across the nation (who knew!?) and so animal mitigation is serious business in the utility industry.

Barriers must be far enough off the ground to keep the animals from jumping over them and long enough so the animals are unable to gain traction when they reach the deterrent, but just wrapping the pole is a simple yet effective way to keep the wires atop it safe.

If only organizations provided such clarity as to where the limits are!

Think of the kind of pole wrap you should deploy in your organization – a self-policing tool that establishes boundaries for employees. By clearly delineating where the parameters are, it allows employees autonomy in other areas and frees the supervisor from continual monitoring. Clarity also protects the employee from getting “zapped” through ignorance.

Squirrel barriers are important components of utility poles — a minor investment that can reduce actions with more serious consequences. Organizations would be well served to model this practice.

Thanks, Curt!

leadership dot #2459: lunk

In the Planet Fitness gyms, there is a prominent Lunk Alarm that others can set off if a lunk is spotted in the facility. A lunk, as they define it, is one who grunts, drops weights or judges. It is a good-humored attempt to keep the atmosphere light and maintain “a judgment free zone” for all the participants.

Wouldn’t it be nice if offices, stores and other establishments had an equivalent “lunk alarm” to ward off those who may be condescending or judgmental toward others? Instead of letting insidious behavior go unchecked there would be a public way to proclaim that it was unwelcome.

Without putting a giant alarm bell on your wall, think about what you can do to establish norms of respect in your setting. Can you develop a shared language that allows you to call someone out without drama? Is there a ritual or motion you can easily perform that sends the same message? How clear are you about expectations when you onboard or review employees?

I doubt the lunk alarm is sounded often – mostly because it is there in the first place. Be proactive in communicating your expectations before they cause the warning bells to ring.

leadership dot #2372: lopsided

In the classes I teach, I regularly assign group projects – much to the chagrin of my students. As they are all working adults, it is often much easier for them to work on their own schedule rather than trying to coordinate with a partner or two.

But group projects frequently offer teachable moments that go far beyond the assignment – as in how to deal with a team member who does not contribute a fair share of the workload. Allowing classmates to struggle with this scenario can help prepare them for when it is a colleague and the stakes on the project are much higher.

I recently had a situation where one person did essentially nothing and the other two team members were required to handle the full load. When they asked for advice on how to handle it, I suggested that the talk with the third person face-to-face if possible and clarify what the person could do, leaving space for them to be realistic about what they are actually able to contribute. It is far better for them to do nothing than to promise something and not deliver, so they need to make it safe for the third person to speak the truth. If they are unable to reach the person at all, they can create a path to move forward by letting the person know that if they don’t hear back by X date, they will be proceeding without them.

At the end of the day, you need to allow the person to save face in public and attempt to preserve your working relationship with them. Calling them out in front of the rest of the team or being passive aggressive about the situation does nothing in the long run to advance the work of the team. Nor does letting the project suffer because you couldn’t split the responsibilities fairly.

The bottom line is that work teams, as with any partnership, are never equal. Teams don’t operate as 50-50 so clear your mind of those unrealistic expectations. Hopefully, your group isn’t as lopsided as all or nothing, but sometimes you have to be prepared to contribute 100%.

 

leadership dot #2301: crazytown

Alia Innovations (a nonprofit seeking to create an “unsystem” to drive transformative change in the child welfare world) shared a model with its Innovation Cohort that is relevant to all organizations undergoing a change process. (Download the diagram here.)

The process of change occurs over time. At the start of a change effort, an organization has the majority of its processes and policies from the current (or what will become old) way of doing things. Eventually, as the transformation progresses, new ways of behavior will be infused, but a total change has not yet occurred. This leaves the organization coping with old and new simultaneously – a transitional period affectionately referred to as “crazytown.” Those involved with the change must deal with ambiguity and sometimes conflicting processes until the new way of doing becomes the norm.

As part of a transformation effort, organizations must decide what to let go of to move beyond the “old way” and to consider what to add in order to establish the “new way.” It can be a time of awkwardness and vulnerability as the change process evolves but being aware of the transition (and acknowledging this with all those involved) can help normalize the confusing time during the middle of the process when the old and new overlap.

Change is never smooth or linear. By using Alia’s Organizational Change model, it may help your organization recalibrate its expectations and have the fortitude to survive the “crazytown” heart of the process.

Thanks, Amy for permission to share!

 

 

leadership dot #2267: exclusions

The local Younkers store went out of business yesterday – part of the liquidation of the whole BonTon retail chain. Younkers was one of the original tenants in our mall and was an anchor in its location since 1968. It was a retail giant here for 50 years, but now it is just an empty shell.

There are many reasons for the chain’s demise, but I believe that one of them was their coupon policy. They relied so heavily on drawing customers to the store because of their discount coupons but left them infuriated when the coupons did not apply to certain (seemingly most) items. The coupons brought people in, but the exclusions caused them to tune out. I found it ironic that even in their going-out-of-business sales exceptions applied.

Your organization can take a lesson from Younkers and others in this chain. While it is tempting to make grandiose promises on the front end, you are better of modifying your expectations and overdelivering on the back end. People want surprises of delight, not frustration. Give them what they expect or give them more – never less – or you may ultimately find yourself as the one being excluded.

leadership dot #2260: preparation

Usually when seeking to present at a conference, you submit a proposal with an outline or objectives, but once selected to present you are on your honor to adhere to what you proposed. I have presented at many conferences where that has been the case, but the organizers of an upcoming conference have taken their quality control to a new level. For this event, I have received multiple instructions and I need to submit my slides three weeks in advance. After they are reviewed, I’ll have a 20-minute phone call to go over my content and ensure that the presentation is interactive and advanced enough for the audience.

I welcome the clarity that the organizers are trying to provide. It feels like they are trying to set me up for success rather than leaving me on my own and the results to chance. It has caused me to up my game and really think about the material that I am sharing in hopes that it meets their exacting standards.

It occurs to me that these organizers are spending more time to set and manage expectations for my 70-minute session than many supervisors do for much more extensive and impactful assignments. How many times has your manager given you a task and then let you go do it without any conversation about expectations or parameters? Have you, as a supervisor, done the same for your employees?

You may not want or need to hold someone’s hand or go through this extensive of a review process if the person or project is familiar, but it provides a good model to follow for new ventures. Be clear about what you are seeking, and then take care that both parties understand how to translate those expectations into tangible actions.